September 27th, 2013
The air is slowly turning more crisp and communities are already celebrating the fruits of this year’s harvest (or, for a more commercial twist, the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte). Lately, I’ve been pondering how taste prompts memory, especially through the results of my ongoing Chicago culinary explorations.
My weakness, the dish that makes my heart beat faster, is ramen. Oily, slick mounds of broth-soaked noodles that warm your soul but still make you feel a little nauseous after you’ve licked the bowl. This may stem from the fact that I am a huge Japanophile, but it may also be, more likely, rooted in my childhood memories of downing oversalted cups of matzo ball soup at the deli counter with my extended family.
Fukuoka, where I lived and worked for a year, is famous throughout Japan for tonkotsu (pork broth) ramen, so unfortunately I have been completely spoiled and will never really fully enjoy a bowl of the stuff again; my tastebuds’ memories always get in the way. I’ve had the perfect bowl (a la cult ramen movie classic “Tampopo“) and there’s no going back. But, I often seek to satisfy random noodle fixations that pop up from time to time, so I head to Slurping Turtle (116 W. Hubbard, near the Merchandise Mart).
Slurping Turtle has been elected to the top of the Chicago ramen rankings several times, and for fair enough reason. The space is industrial-funky meets “Cool Japan,” trendy and clean. One look at the draft beer list will make you cringe ($7 Sapporo?) but the noodle selection is luscious. For these late summer days, I’d actually recommend the Hiyashi Chu-ka ($13). It’s basically a bowl of cold ramen without the broth (what?!) but the crisp toppings of shredded seaweed, corn, asparagus, cabbage and other seasonal vegetables are drenched in a subtle soy sesame sauce. It’s a perfect exercise in breaking down this culinary archetype into the make-or-break basic: texture. It even made me, a broth aficionado, a believer.